Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pioneering superpipe skier understood risks of her sport

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AN effervescent Sarah Burke sits beside her husband, Rory Bushfield, in the recently released video clip from a Ski Channel film and talks passionately about the couple's life as winter sport enthusiasts.

"That's where we're the happiest," says the pioneering superpipe skier. "Whether it's an X Games contest, out snowmobiling together ... it's what our lives are, is being on the hill. And there's a reason for that, it's amazing, it's where we met, it's where we play, we live... "

Then, in a chillingly ominous moment, Rory interrupts and says "And hopefully where we'll die."

To which Burke adds "and where we'll die."

Burke, an X Games star who understood the risks inherent in her live-on-the-edge sport, died Thursday in hospital in Salt Lake City, nine days after sustaining critical head injuries when she fell during a training session in the superpipe at Park City, Utah.

The Squamish, B.C., resident was 29.

"Sarah was larger than life and lived life to the fullest, a phenomenal representative of her sport," said Peter Judge, CEO of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association. "In many ways, she was the face, the name and the brand people identified with, having been involved right from the very beginning.

"She was at the forefront of the sport all the way through."

Burke was attempting a relatively common flat spin 540 when she fell, hit her head and suffered a ruptured vertebral artery, one of the four major arteries supplying blood to the brain. She went into cardiac arrest on the hill.

Her publicist said in a statement Thursday that the artery was surgically repaired a day later, but she had sustained "severe irreversible damage to her brain due to the lack of oxygen and blood after cardiac arrest."

Burke's organs and tissues were donated.

Burke's publicists have helped the family, which has continually declined interview requests, set up a fundraising initiative -- www.giveforward.com/sarahburke -- to help them with the reported $550,000 in hospital costs.

While the CFSA carries insurance for all its athletes, the policy doesn't cover athletes competing in events that are not a sanctioned part of the association's program. In this case, Burke was taking part in an event put on by a sponsor, Monster Energy.

Judge said he would be surprised if Monster, which sponsors many action sports events in the U.S., didn't have some kind of insurance coverage.

A four-time X Games gold medallist and the first woman to land a 1080 (three-revolution trick), Burke will be remembered for pushing to get women into the ESPN-sponsored sports showcase and for advocating to get ski halfpipe into the Olympics for Sochi 2014, where she likely would have been one of the favourites for the gold medal.

"As a face and a spokesperson for the sport, she was always very articulate, very intelligent in terms of what she presented the sport to be," said Judge.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 20, 2012 C2

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